Sunday, March 16, 2008

New York

“You're not in Vegas, and you're not in L.A. - you are in the most magnificent city in the world - it's the city of Gershwin and Cole Porter, Damon Runyon and Fiorello LaGuardia.”
-Dan Rydell, Sports Night

So I went to New York last week for work; well Manhattan more specifically and downtown Manhattan extra more specifically.

I hate New York.

I hate New York because I love it.

Before you turn up your nose and say things like, “ah irony, how droll,” or “isn’t that cute. He loves it so much he hates it,” or “he hates it so much he loves it. Nooooooooooooo one’s ever done that kind of wordplay before,” you’re cordially invited to cram it.

Having once broken an ankle on stage and suffered “they don’t mean literally break a leg” and a self-satisfied grin from everyone, not to mention a host of Rick Springfield jokes thanks to the name “Jesse,” I am aware that the well-spring of human creativity is really more of a bubbling.

Besides, there’s more to it than that. here for the full post.

Coming out of World Trade Center station at the end of the P.A.T.H. line with the crush of life that’s bravely sucking in breath before a plunge into rush hour and seeing the steel and stone of this place makes my dreams feel small, and I am wracked with a Gollum-esq covetousness for something.

That’s what I hate.

There’s a desire there and I don’t know what it’s for.

It’s not hunger. It’s not thirst. It’s not even that tingling in the bits from the brunette on the platform for the 3 Uptown whose overcoat was perfectly short for the rest of her outfit.

Those things—those urges—are primal. This is distinctly un-primal; the fabrication of a mind socialized to see this place as the secular Mecca; the pulse of all things.

Goddammit it works! And a strange conglomerate of unfulfilled goals and rapidly diminishing days collide in the Europa Café on Water Street as I envy the people that have this overly modern sandwich shop as part of their morning routine.

Fuck these people! I’m a writer!

Fuck these people! I’m trying to be a writer! Doesn’t that count for anything? I should be here, not them!

My boss then comes out of the bathroom and returns the key to the cashier, a precaution to keep out the homeless, the junkies, and the homeless junkies; a hint of practicality takes the shine off but still!

We grab our coats, check our materials and prep for our first visit.

An hour-plus later we’re out—heading to stop #2—having successfully reviewed last quarter’s results with our professional partners, and reconfirmed a mutual commitment to increase submission volume by an additional ten percent!

Fucking yay.

But marching down Water Street to the south point of the island, seeing people of hurried importance dart from here to there next to women in black and bleached blond who sport their plumage with authority I think it comes to me.

New York could never satisfy me. The bar is too high.

The feeling empowered by this place is simple: no matter what you’re doing something unbelievably better is happening somewhere else…nearby in fact! But you’ll never know because you can’t really find it.

It’s the potential energy of the sensuous stripper who knows the exact corner of your mouth to kiss so that it doesn’t cross the line but makes you rethink everything even when you know that’s crazy…and that you might catch something.

So maybe it is primal. But the breathless pursuit of the perfectly erudite evening, ensconced in cherry wood trim, under faux stained glass fixtures seems a little off from Maslow’s list.

But that’s where I find myself.

My boss and I have taken both parts of appointment #2 to lunch at a place called Becket’s, a place off of a curved side street with cobblestones somewhere between Water and Wall, still near the south tip of the island.

It does have cherry trim. It does have faux stained glass fixtures. It also has hardwood floors, exposed brick walls with just the right slight veneer of white dustish stuff. The beer list is good, the burgers are strong and the fries are the perfect thickness. And I know—I’m sure—that I would spend my nights here if this New York Hunger went from specter to reality; laughing with friends that are fictitious now but somehow certain—promised by this city.

But the devil is in the details.

As we talk with #2 we find that neither of them lives in the City. It’s Staten Island (3 busses and the subway just to get to work) for one. It’s Princeton (yes New Jersey) for the other. True they’re older. They’re established with a life and a family, things that would conflict with the Hunger. But, even the appointment #1s, who were young, and single, with the most to gain from giving in to the call of this place still lived in 3-bus-burrough Staten Island!

“It’s too expensive,” Nikki explains to me that night when I tell her about the day. “You have to be an Olsen Twin to live that kind of life in New York.”

I know she’s right to an extent, that money has to be a trifle—handled by one’s minions—to truly know this place unbound. But it can’t be that way for everyone can it?

I mean I always assume that those people spend their time at places with names like “Le Condescension,” eating Kobe beef flavored somethings in some sort of reduction glaze. They’re not here.

So what the hell does it mean, the Hunger?

I don’t get the time to figure it out. 2 hours and 1 transfer later we’re on the train home, birthing from the under-bones of Penn Station. I start writing, trying to make some shape from the head-mess and I’ve got nothing. Instead, I’m plugged into the Ipod, listening to jazz that makes me feel cultured and smart—my deliberate revenge against a city that made me feel insignificant (see, I like Miles Davis and Django Reinhardt…your MOM New York!).

It’s been about a week now—a little more—and I finally feel like I might have something, and it’s not comfortable. We’re talking the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s “where’d you come from double chin?” uncomfortable but here goes:

It comes from the realization that I’ve already had those perfect nights that I associated with being in New York, packed with people at different places, cascading from friend’s place to drinks to dinner to more drinks to friend’s place to bed. Your energy is abruptly limitless, conversations shatter into a dozen concurrent fragments and you somehow manage to have a stake in every one. You race the dawn home like some half-assed vampire that’s gorged on an evening with “the cool kids.”

I just don’t have them all that often.

And how much would “New York” really change that? Yes, 2 extra hours to do the puke-and-stagger but to date I have never needed dim-sum at 4 in the morning on a Tuesday and I don’t see that changing any time in the near ever. Thus, I wonder if New York’s mesmerizing power is the attraction of frills that would have no value for me (“cup-holders in the trunk!?! Awesome!”), but reminds me of all the things I enjoy doing, but don’t make as much time for as I’d like to. It robs me of complacency. It strips me of all my lazy excuses. The disembodied voice of Manhattan says “why do you deserve a New York caliber night when you’re not even using a perfectly good Philadelphia?”

Fair play to you, disembodied-voice-of-Manhattan. Fair play to you.

New York didn’t cause the Hunger, it just woke it up.

Three days after the Manhattan mess, Nikki and I had one of those Perfect Times, with a Friday night black tie dinner, a stay-over downtown that had us museum hopping with one of our best friends the next day that ended with dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. Moving that to New York would have done nothing more for us, and I know that had I gone to Manhattan the week after, the Hunger still might have been there but it would have found itself sharply blunted.

So the lesson learned, I guess, is to not waste your damn time. If you know what you want, make the effort to take it. There’s a restaurant in midtown Manhattan that features French Gypsy Jazz every Wednesday, but there’s also a Django Reinhardt tribute band playing outside of Philly next month, and I intend to be there.
Psssh…your MOM New York.


Michael Ledford said...

Brilliant - could not have said it better myself until I read what you wrote. Wow - poetic my friend, poetic.

Qui-Gon Jesse said...

Thanks Mike,
I appreciate that.

Natascha said...

Yes yes, me too, me too!! I heart that piece of writing!!

Dammit, he (being the big M) beat me to commenting. I HATE it when he does that ;).

Seriously - I actually really enjoyed reading it. More, please.

Hal said...


Jacob! said...

Well said, my brother. Well said, indeed. Funny how a little perspective helps calm the wanderlust, huh? "[Jesse], you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly upon our point of view ..."

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